A Nineteenth-Century Mystery
Department of Chemistry
Wake Forest University
This case describes the pioneering work of Ignaz Semmelweis and his efforts to remedy the problem of childbed fever in mid-19th century Europe. Its purpose is to teach students about the scientific method by "dissecting" the various steps involved in this important, historical medical breakthrough. The case is an interrupted case, that is, students receive only one piece of information at a time, followed by discussion, before moving on to the next piece of information to solve the mystery.
- To be able to define a problem or a question given a set of observations.
- To be able to formulate an “explanatory story,” or hypothesis, in order to solve the problem at hand.
- To be able to design a suitable experiment in order to evaluate the validity of the proposed hypothesis.
- To be able to draw logical conclusions based on experimental results.
- To understand the importance of the dissemination of scientific information and of establishing credibility within the scientific community.
- To learn about the importance of observation when conducting scientific experiments, and to encourage observations beyond those expected or anticipated.
KeywordsChildbed fever; puerperal sepsis; infectious disease; hand washing; experimental design; hypothesis testing; Ignaz Semmelweis
Topical AreasHistory of science, Scientific method
Educational LevelHigh school, Undergraduate lower division
Type / MethodsInterrupted
Subject HeadingsScience (General) | Biology (General) | Epidemiology | Public Health | Medicine (General) |